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Tradition stood on end: sheathed by glass shutters, this house makes the most of a tight urban site.

The Glass Shutter House, which Shigeru Ban recently completed on a cramped site in the Meguro district of Tokyo, is the latest of the architect's experiments in blurring physical boundaries. It was commissioned by Yoshiharu Doi, a television chef, who wanted a restaurant, a studio where he could conduct classes or tape his programmes, plus living spaces for himself, his wife, and their teenage daughter. Ban stacked all of these on a 4m by 16m footprint, linking the ground floor restaurant and open kitchen to the mezzanine studio and set-back living area with an open staircase running up the inner wall. The set-back of the third level was determined by a local regulation that places a two-storey limit on buildings fronting the street. The two exposed walls, one bay wide and four deep, are faced with aluminium-framed glass shutters that slide up, section by section, and are recessed into a rooftop container. So, all three levels can be opened up to the street, and to the narrow tapering courtyard to one side.

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The architect employed a similar strategy on an earlier building--the Paper Art Museum in Shizuoka, an hour south of Tokyo by Bullet Train. There the shutters, made of a sandwich of glass and fibre-reinforced plastic, fold up to open the central atrium at the east and west ends. Shutters on all three levels of the south side fold out to create awnings that shade the interior from the sun. This precise manipulation of light and air represents one side of Ban's practice, as the bamboo and paper structures (such as the Great Wall house and the Japanese pavilion at Expo 2000, AR September 2000) show off his highly inventive use of natural materials. Common to both is a sense of openness and the permeability of walls.

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In contrast to the Curtain Wall House, also in Tokyo, where white curtains provide an outer skin, enclosing a terrace around the glass sliders that protect the interior, the white polyester curtains of the Doi house are hung within the shutters and billow out only when they are open. But the duality of the layers--transparent and translucent, solid and fluid--allows for varying degrees of exposure and enclosure. When the shutters are up and curtains drawn, the interior becomes an 8m-high portico, open to public view. And yet, even then, attention is focused on the restaurant, and the upper levels are absorbed into a private realm that is visible yet politely ignored. Ban has reinterpreted the traditional Japanese house, with its sliding walls, shoji screens, and shutters, using the latest technology and achieving an open plan in three dimensions, rather than two.

The longer you explore this crystal cube, the more ambiguous and traditional it appears. By Western standards, this is less a house than a restaurant with bedrooms for the owner over the kitchen. But the Japanese interior has always had multiple uses: the same tatami-matted room serving for living, eating, and sleeping, and turning into a sheltered terrace when the shoji are drawn. So, here, the studio doubles as a family cooking and dining area, and the restaurant and courtyard, bounded by a screen of creeper-hung bamboo, serve as borrowed landscape. 'I find Ban's architecture very Japanese,' says Doi, who grew up in a traditional house in Osaka, 'totally minimal and flexible.'

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Article Details
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Author:Webb, Michael
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:567
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